Who Is Odysseus?

Odysseus is the hero of Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey," which follows the protagonist as he attempts a difficult 10-year journey from Troy to his homeland of Ithaca. Odysseus also plays a major role in "The Iliad," in which he is best known as the inventor of the Trojan horse.

Odysseus is one of the first literary examples of what would come to be called a "Renaissance man." Odysseus excels at all aspects of leadership. While his compatriots Achilles, Agamemnon and Ajax all evince specific virtues, such as strength, aggression and stamina, Odysseus is all these things, in addition to being a clever adviser and a master poet and storyteller. Of all the great heroes of the Trojan War, Odysseus is the sole survivor.

The traits that make Odysseus an epic hero would later be condemned in 5th-century Athens as villainous. For example, Odysseus' cleverness often presents itself as the ability to lie to get out of a jam. The most famous instance is Odysseus' idea for the Trojan Horse, a large wooden horse full of hidden Greek soldiers given as a "gift" to the Trojans. The Athenians saw Odysseus' anything-goes mentality as characteristic of the politicians that were ruining Athenian society.